Renewing nuclear plant licenses for aging electric power generators is mired in a sink hole of politics and regulators, who are more concerned with the economical woes of that industry rather than safety. Here is a summary of the risks and a path forward to mitigate them:
1. Aging nuclear plants are risk prone and could lead to catastrophic consequences.
2. Ninety percent of the uranium used in nuclear power plants is imported with 15 percent from Kazakhstan and 23 percent from Russia. These sources are not necessarily reliable.
3. There are 65,000 tons of spent uranium rods stored at more than 30 locations. Nearly 2000 tons of spent fuel are added annually. It could take 15-20 years to identify a permanent waste storage site. Can we afford to wait that long?
4. Decommissioning a nuclear power plant will cost at least $600M and require several years. The cost of a new reactor ranges from $5B to $7B based on a Westinghouse AP 1000 model.
5. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is incapable of making unbiased decisions regarding license renewals. Cozy relations continue between politicians and regulators in spite of Fukushima.
6. License extensions are granted to save the nuclear power industry money, coupled with the hope that nothing bad happens during the 20-year license renewal period.
7. Nuclear plants could be replaced with natural gas-fired electric power generators. The United States has a plentiful (allegedly) supply of natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation, among others, and can be produced with horizontal drilling and hydro fracturing (“fracking”). However, it remains to be seen whether fracking can be accomplished without environmental harm. Some have questioned the extent of shale gas reserves, which might be overstated by at least a factor of 2.
Note: There are 11 government agencies that support the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Solicitations from these agencies are published several times during the year and contain dozens of problem topics. For example, many topics from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have a keen interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, some of which may overlap the issues raised in this post. Small businesses, sometimes teamed with universities, may submit proposals in response to these topics and possibly receive awards for technology/process development.Tags: Aging Nuclear Plants, Environmental Harm, Imported Uranium, Marcellus Shale, Nuclear Plant Licenses, Nuclear Plant Risks, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SBIR, Shale Gas Reserves, STTR